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The Music Career of Charles Manson

Manson is not typically remembered for his music.

Manson is not typically remembered for his music. In fact, there’s a good chance you had no idea he even wrote music before reading this article. However, he has put out a considerable number of recordings since being sent to prison. His music was first released as he was standing trial for his role as the head conspirator behind the Manson Family murders. How this came about is an interesting story in and of itself.

See Manson had been a long time criminal before the murders, and in 1967 he was serving out a sentence at Terminal Island in San Pedro, California for stealing a check from the mail. While there, he met Phil Kaufman who was in for smuggling marijuana into the U.S. Kaufman was released from prison a year later than Manson, and he went to live with him and the family, I’m talking, of course, about the cult. Kaufman was adamant about recording Manson, but Manson himself was much more interested in his cult activities by this time. Eventually becoming frustrated with Manson and his increasingly erratic followers, Kaufman went on his way.

However, when Manson went up for trial for the murders in 1969, he called Kaufman on the phone and asked him to put out his music any way he could. Apparently, Manson had in fact recorded a number of songs between 1967 and 1968, with members of the family backing him mostly on vocals. Kaufman took on Manson’s request and began shopping the collection of songs to various record labels, who turned it away usually because of its link to Manson. Desperate to put out the record, Kaufman raised enough money to press 2,000 copies and had them distributed throughout the West Coast of the U.S. After some time, a label called ESP-Disk released the record, which was named Lie: The Love and Terror Cult, on March 6, 1970. Of course, the best the record achieved was a cult following, no pun intended.

With all that being said, Manson had actually been trying to get into the music industry since the mid-'60s, before even meeting Kaufman. As a matter of fact, Manson had quite a few connections with the greater Los Angles music scene, the most notable being his friendship with Denis Wilson of the Beach Boys. In addition to allowing Manson to live with him, Wilson himself actually paid for studio time for Manson to record, though much of the tapes from those sessions have not been released, even to this day. However, Manson’s growing radicalization would ultimately lead to the unravelling of his relationship with Wilson.

After this fallout between the two, Wilson took it upon himself to rework one of Manson’s songs "Cease to Exist" into "Never Learn Not to Love" which made it onto the Beach Boys album 20/20. To say that Manson was not at all pleased with Wilson’s changes would be an understatement; He reportedly went to Wilson’s house with a loaded gun and finding that the Beach Boy wasn’t home, left the housekeeper with a bullet and a message.

Wilson’s changes to Manson’s lyrics were significant, changing phrases like “cease to exist” to “cease to resist” and “submission is a gift, go on, give it to your brother” to “submission is a gift given to another.” My personal analysis of the lyrics shows a change from the song being about a possessive love affair, to a relationship built on a more give and take basis, though the phrase "cease to resist" still has an air of creepiness to it.

Which brings me to my final point, that being: are Manson’s songs a lens into his sociopathic psyche? Perhaps, after all, this is a man who thought The Beatles' White Album was about an upcoming race war and that the song "Helter Skelter" was giving him instructions to orchestrate the murders of ’69. So it's reasonable to think that Manson was trying to portray certain messages through his music. Then again when I listened to Lie: The Love and Terror Cult for the research of this article, I didn’t find the music to be any more unusual than other psychedelic folk music that was coming out in this period. Still, it's hard not to find connections to Manson’s murderous philosophy when listening to his music, though I wonder if that has more to do with our collective knowledge of the man and the atrocities he committed, rather than there being any intentional message weaving in the lyrics. Honestly, I think either interpretation could be correct. 

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The Music Career of Charles Manson
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